I just realized that I left out the defensive line when I did the units review a couple of weeks ago – so let’s do that now.
Here are the two-deep defensive line listings from the YSU game in last year’s opener and then the final game against Miami.
Here you can see that we didn’t go through too many changes over the course of the 12 week season; Hendricks and Roy stayed at DE and NT respectively but there was a slight shake up with early starters Camp being sat down for Watts and Edwards at the other DE spot giving up the starter’s position to James Folston.
Not that it mattered really because of all the units on the field on both sides of the ball the DL is one where you see the most substitutions week to week and in-game. Being sat down really just meant they were in a continual rotation and situational packages. We’ll see that again this year.
How did this unit do in 2017? Well, there are two sides to that story. Against the rush we did rather well limiting our opponents to 142 ypg (4.2 ypc) for 41st nationally. Can’t beat that for the suspect way the rest of the defense played. But what really shone for the DL was the work they did against Miami who had been averaging 160 yards on the ground and we held them to less than two yards per carry (1.95) with only 45 yards on 23 rushes. Excellent work there and it really helped win that game for us.
So the rushing defense was pretty stout. What about the all-important pressure on the QB and DL penetration (however slight) that Pat Narduzzi’s defense demands?
Sadly that was another story altogether. Last season we did the following in those areas:
Sacks Made: 74th nationally with 23 and Tackles For Loss (TFL) Made: 101st nationally with only 56. That is mostly due to the DL unable to get into the opponent’s’ backfield on any consistent basis.
Another stat that isn’t based solely on the DL but in which they have a big part in is the Opponent’s Passing Efficiency were our defense came in at 88th at 136.3. That is pretty high and points to the opposing QBs having time to set up, choose, throw and complete passes and is borne out with the ridiculous yards per completion rate we gave up of 14.1.
Again – that isn’t all on the DL’s shoulders but our almost complete lack of a pass rush helps allow that to happen.
So what changes are we seeing from ’17 to this season along the line? Well, not a whole lot actually as the DL was rather young last season. The only senior we had was Allan Edwards and he was pretty ineffectual (13 tackles and one TFL) so no big loss there.
Kam Carter, who quite honestly in my opinion never should have been pursued to come to Pitt given his track record at other schools and his highly publicized and nationally televised craptastic attitude is gone also. Again, he did almost nothing for us last season (9 games with 8 tackles and 1.5 TFLs) so his loss isn’t even a blip on the concern radar.
Returning we will play SR Dewayne Hendrix at right DE again with SR Shane (“The Dozer”) Roy next to him at DT. Lest you think “Dozer” is given to have “Bull” in front of it that is wrong. He’s “Dozer” because it looked like he was napping half the time he was out there.
Kidding aside, I truly hope we get some other, younger and better player in there to take his place. The staff has been mentioning 6’3″/290 rsSO Rashad Wheeler a bunch this spring and between him and 6’2″/310 rsFR Jaylen Twyman maybe we can get a better a push up the middle that we sorely lacked last year.
At the other DE spot we’ll probably see rsSO Rashad Weaver who played in all 12 games and was one of the more productive defenders with 28 tackles, 6.0 TFLs and 3.0 sacks (3rd on the team in this category).
All of Pat Narduzzi’s defensive line recruits to date have been 2* and 3* kids with the exception of Amir Watts who was a 4* in the 2016 class. I believe his getting Dewayne Hendricks in as a transfer has been a break-even proposition – he’s done nothing special in his time at Pitt and I’m not expecting a whole lot from him this season either. But defensive lines can do well without any individual stars (Weaver is about the best shot for stardom IMO) so they can produce and help the rest of the defense this season with a few starter changes and some of the younger kids really stepping up and playing above expectations.
Weaver, Camp, Watts, and I think Twyman have high potentials and are candidates for rising above and we need them to because if we replicate the almost no-pressure on QBs that we had last year our DBs are going to have their hands full again and that isn’t a good thing as we have seen.
I’m not expecting any of the class of 2018 recruits to have much impact for their true freshman years but you never know. However, like the OL and LBs, the DL players usually take a year or two to find their stride and get comfortable enough to really impact opponent’s offenses.
My overview? I think this unit will improve from last year and if they can balance out talent across the line we may see them have a more positive impact on the defense. I’m still thinking the LBs are the best defensive unit we’ll field but the DL – with some changes – could make us sit up and take notice.